Brock by Anthony McGowan
I found a proof of this lurking at work and I happily devoured it in one sitting.
Nicky’s homelife is going through a rough patch. His dad faces a prison sentance, his mum has left, and he’s stuck trying to keep his older, simpleminded happy brorther Kenny out of trouble. All the while he’s trying to avoid the local bullies, who have an axe to grind with Nicky and his family. Then one day the bullies try to destroy a badger set and Nicky now has a completely different set of worries.
There’s lots to love in this short but punchy read. For a start, it’s got some great and throughly nasty baddies in bullies Jezbo and his cronies. I’m pretty sure my lip curled a few times when I was reading, they were such utterly foul excuses for human beings. They’re the kind of baddies you love to hate (which if course is the best kind of baddy). Even their dogs scream malice, right down to the oh so lovely names of Satan and Slag and their straining at their leashes to get away from their master and cause some damage. These are the kind of characters you read a book for – you want to see them come down.
Despite the occasional bad language and references to alcoholism and junkies, this book did have for me a bit of a Morpurgo vibe. I think perhaps it’s because of the detail paid by the author to the countryside and of course to the badgers themselves, the sort of details that always strike me when I read books by the former Children’s Laureate. McGowan is fantastic at scene-setting: the opening chapter of the badger reflecting back on his life, his past glories and the fight still left in his grizzled hide was the kind of opening that really draws you in, and I’m very fond of the bit later on when Nicky is going to the copse-with-no-name. I was right there alongside him as he peddled up to it on the too-small bike and made his way into the woods looking for likely badger setts, swishing his hazel stick. For a self-confessed city girl, suddenly finding myself wanting to go poking about in The Big Scary Countryside speaks wonders for a story.
I especially liked the contrast between the old badger, the young badger, Tina the dog and Jezbo and Co. There was more than a hint of the age-old question of what really makes something an animal in here, but somehow McGowan asked that question in a way that didn’t seem familiar. In fact, parts of the book were almost shocking, especially Jezbo’s badger-baiting and violence. It stuck out in my mind, even if technically it wasn’t at all gory. I think what was more shocking was Jezbo himself and his actions, rather than the act of badger-baiting itself (not to draw curtain over that at all). So yes, the question of what makes an animal an animal was not exactly asked quietly, shall we say. More sort of blared out, which is not a bad thing at all, especially when it makes an impression as it did for me, the self-confessed Nature-Ignorer.
I loved all the information on badgers, which I’d never really considered outside of The Wind in the Willows and Redwall. When I was little I never had so much as a guinea pig, let alone saw something as wild as a badger. Woodland animals lived in pages for me, but I still got just as caught up in the research as Nicky did. The call to the Badger Protection League was a nice touch.
In fact, the only problem I had with the book is that it ended all too quickly! Its a very nifty read with some beautiful scene-setting and after the violence some truly heart-warming moments between both the human and non-human characters. Loved loved LOVED it.
Find it here (preorder only at the mo)